Our research program focuses on the molecular physiology and genetics of plant mineral nutrition with emphasis on plant responses to abiotic stresses in the soil. Currently, the lab is focusing on three major research areas:
1. How do crop plants tolerate the abiotic stresses on acid soils, as these acid soils comprise up to 50% of the world’s potentially arable lands? This research involves identifying genes and the associated physiological mechanisms that confer tolerance to a major stress on acid soils, aluminum (Al) toxicity. We have cloned a number of Al tolerance genes in the cereal crops sorghum, maize and rice, and are studying how these genes function and are regulated. We are also investigating plant tolerance to the other primary stress on acid soils, phosphorous deficiency, with a focus on the role of root architecture in this trait (see below). Finally, we are collaborating with the Embrapa Maize and Sorghum Laboratory in Brazil and plant breeders in Africa to translate these discoveries into improved maize and sorghum yields on acid soils in Sub-Saharan Africa.
2. Our lab has developed and is using novel tools for imaging the entire root system of crop plant species in 2- and 3-dimensions, and the development of quantitative descriptors for architecture traits for these root systems, in order to facilitate the genetic mapping of different components of root architecture. The goal of this research is to identify genes that contribute to root system architecture traits that facilitate the uptake of sparingly available nutrients, with a focus on P and N acquisition and water uptake under drought conditions.
3. Research on fundamental aspects of plant mineral nutrient transport with emphasis on improving the accumulation and the availability of Fe and Zn in cereal seeds and minimizing the entry of toxic heavy metals and metalloids such as Cd and As into the food chain.